The Good, The Bad & The Superugly
On Monday, the President unveiled his budget for the 2012 fiscal year, the claws came out from every crevice. I took a minute to look at the budget in the context of the concerns of the African American community objectively. Here are some of the highlights of what I found.
First, let’s tell the unstated truth. The president can only play or rearrange money within only 31% of the federal budget. Health Care takes up 22.62%, Social Security takes up 20.04%, National Defense takes up another 19.27% and paying Net Interest takes up another 6.31%, . Though all of these areas saw some minor budget cuts, these are the sacred cows. As we saw with the health care reform debate, tipping the cows is a no-no in American Politics.
This is only a plan. The budget will be debated on, bargained, compromised and changed in millions of different ways before it is etched in stone for 2012. However, if it passes, 2012 is going be good, bad and even super ugly for already struggling African Americans.
One of the most remarkable and commendable aspects of Barack Obama’s presidency is that he attacks the problem of education at its roots. Rather than create funding regulations that punish public schools and low income students, he adds money to support them and improve their performance. Many school administrations hate his education policies because none of them allow them an unearned pay raise. His funding initiatives often go directly towards the classrooms and not to its bureaucracy.
The latest Census polls states that more that 78% of all African American students in K-12 attend some form of public school. An overwhelming 88% of them attend public school in low income urban areas. Here are some highlights on how President Obama plan to address their needs in his 2012 budget.
K-12 education is one of the only areas that received a significant increase in federal funding. Key features;
- $300 Million in funding for schools that show the most progress in improving the achievement of at-risk students.
- $150 Million in funding for a program designed to address the needs of disadvantaged communities through a partnerships with their local schools called Promise Neighborhoods.
- $600 Million in funding to help States and School districts turn around the nations’ worst performing schools.
The other key focus in the Department of Education is increasing the access top college for more disadvantaged students. In the same vain as the K-12 initiatives, much of the funding for colleges and institutions of higher learning are competitive and performance based.
- $50 Million to Colleges and Universities that demonstrate success in enrolling and graduating disadvantaged students.
- $40 Million in competitive grants at minority serving institutions to expand and improve teacher training programs.
- $186 Million in Capital Financing to Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Like many other Americans, one of the biggest concerns among African Americans is employment. African Americans not only lead the nation with the highest rates of unemployment month after month but also lead the nations as the largest demographic among those who have fallen completely out of the work force. It is estimated that more than 35% of working age African Americans have either exhausted their unemployment benefits or no longer qualify for unemployment.
Within the framework of his budget, the President tried to address the woes of the unemployment by doing the following.
- $380 Million in funding made available for states and agencies to create innovative ways to training the unemployed for 21st Century careers.
- $18 Billion in funding for small business loans, including relaxed lending procedures which are meant to encourage many of the unemployed to create small businesses for themselves.
- Funding for Work Sharing Programs
Currently 17 States give their support for some form of work-sharing. Work-sharing is when employers reduce the hours that their employees work in order to reduce their overhead costs in that way instead of laying them off. The workers however will receive a reimbursement from the federal and state government in the form of unemployment insurance benefits. This saves jobs and prevents many of the skilled working class from the brutality of periodic layoffs. Congress has not disclosed an approximate figure on how much will be made available.
Because other news sites and blogs have probably talked about the cuts to the point of redundancy, I will only talk about three that worry me a tad.
- Performance Based Funding
The funding made available will be handed to down to various agencies who will each probably interpret the requirements in their own ways. While there will be some that do achieve positive results, there will be an application will vary from state to state and from district to district.
As we have seen with No Child Left Behind, Many teachers, principles and school superintendents will find loopholes and short cuts of getting around the minimum performance requirements at all educational levels. We forget that many of the same dinosaurs that ran our public schools into the ground are still in charge and will be in charge of applying many of the president’s performance based initiatives. This will have a devastating effect on African American students.
In K-12, some of these already struggling schools will continue to send all of their struggling students to special education. Those that become disruptive will be shipped them out of their school district or sent to juvenile hall. Teachers will separate certain students within their classrooms and focus only on the ones whom they believe will graduate. The dropout rate could increase.
On the college level, grading will become less harsh and As and Bs may be handed out without a care about the level of mastery of the material because graduation is being placed at a higher priority than basic understanding. This will make many degrees from once proud institutions utterly worthless. HBCUS may get hit the hardest. A large percentage of HBCU have graduation rates well under 40%. To ask them to increase their rate above 50% or lose federal funding will be death sentence to many campuses.
- The Pell Grant Reshuffle
The latest budget eliminates Pell Grant funding for attending classes in the summer. Anyone who has been to school will tell you that to comfortably finish within four years at most universities, a summer session is almost required. By eliminating the Pell Grant, many students will have to take out more loans to attend college during the summer. If they do not, they stay in college an extra semester or two thus increasing the amount of debt that they will owe once they leave school.
- Federal Prison spending increased
The increase in Federal spending is primarily to build more federal prisons. This is a weak response to the problem of prison overcrowding. The problem with prisons is not the lack of space but the growth in the number of non-violent offenders. Many of the non-violent offenders would probably be better served with rehabilitation or simple diversion into other forms of punishment for their crimes. Because jails are sources of revenue for small regions of the country and full prisons bring much money to the economy, there will be an increase in the number of arrests for non-violent offenders. Many of them will be black.
Cutting the budget did come with some huge and serious consequences. Here are some of the most disturbing.
- 45% was cut from the Senior Community Service Employment program.
This program gives low income seniors, aged 55 and older, the training and job placement that they need to get back into the workforce. Many of them are doing so because their medical expenses have risen and the collapse of the stock market in 2008 wiped out much of their retirement funds.
- The Elimination of the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program
This program helped to keep many struggling low income from the brink of homelessness, by subsidizing their rent for up to three months. Several states cut their funding for these programs back in 2009, leaving the cost burden on the shoulders of HUD. HUD has been struggling to meet these costs as the number of people needing assistance has steadily increased over the last few years.
- Tax Hikes on Wall Street, Big Oil and The Rich
When the GOP held Christmas unemployment checks hostage in exchange for tax breaks for the wealthiest top 2%, they thought they had gotten away with one. With his 2012 budget, Obama plans to recover much of the $858 Billion dollars in revenue lost in that deal by eliminating the Bush Tax cuts for 2012. But this is going to come at a price. Those wealthy companies are going to pass along the cost down the lower 98%. The price of goods and services are certainly going to increase. Their tax burden will be thrown onto the rest of us. Look for more pain at the pump and fees at the bank.
In the minds of Many African Americans, this budget will further add to their resentment of him. Since he was elected back in 2008 many African American leaders and activists have taken President Barack Obama to task for many of his ‘race neutral’ policies. Much of the criticism stems unrealistic expectations of him taking on the role of a martyr, civil right activist or even militant from the seat of the oval office. The Right Wing often uses code words to paint him in a similar light. However, the President of the United States can not be and never has been any of those things. He is an elected official whose chief duty is to serve the needs of all of his constituents. He does not belong solely to African Americans but to the entire country. So to expect his fiscal policies to lean towards just or even primarily African Americans is naïve at the very least. His budget was cruel but the GOP and the tea party budget proposals were even crueler. Truth is, President Obama may not be perfect but he is our best option at this present second.
Source: Brandale Goes In